Is Social Media the Same as New Media?

Posted by | May 15, 2011 | Social Media Basics

As more businesses, people and governments start exchanging information and participating in discussions on the internet, there is a growing confusion about what certain terms mean.

New media and social media are a perfect example. Many people are asking is social media the same as new media because the terms are used almost interchangeably.

New Media

New media emerged near the end of the 20th century. At the time, the distinction was between traditional media methods and the emerging possibilities that were provided by the growing technology.

Today the distinction is easier to see when the two are referred to as “old media” and “new media.”

Old media encompasses things like books, magazines, radio and television. These were methods of communication that have been around for decades or even centuries and the vast majority of people were familiar with them.

New media refers to those communication methods that are still emerging as a result of technology. Blogs, text messaging, email, podcasting and streaming video are all examples of new media methods.

The key factor in new media is technology. The technology for these methods was either in its infancy or did not exist 50 years ago.

Social Media

A major reason for the confusion between new media and social media is the fact that both depend on the same technology for existence. Cell phones and the Internet are integral parts of both social and new media communications. The key distinction for social media is “social.”

Social media is interactive. It needs people to participate actively in order to exist. Microblogging site Twitter is a perfect example of social media. One person or company tweets about something.

People who read the tweet respond by sending a tweet back for everyone following the feed to see.

A discussion ensues that is sparked from one post but grows and changes based on the participation those reading and reacting to it.

Distinguishing Between New Media and Social Media

Social media is a distinct subset of new media. In many cases, people will be technically correct when they use new media to describe or refer to a practice that is engaging social media methods.

This practice, however, serves to blur the line between the two. Today, most experts are limiting new media to mono-directional communication.

The Onion is an online news parody outlet that is an example of new media. They present stories but do not allow readers to comment on them. is an example of social media because they ask readers to comment on articles and even invite readers to send in their own video of news worthy events which CNN may publish on their site.

Using these terms interchangeably creates confusion for those who are just beginning to engage in new media and social media. Using the terms correctly will benefit everyone in the long run.

What do you think? Is social media a subset of new media or is it something else?

Image credit birgerking and osseous.

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